In August 2012, Kirk and Karen Mosley stepped off a plane and into a somewhat surreal existence. They were Americans, newly arrived in China, participating in the China’s Teacher Program (CTP), a nonprofit outreach program of the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies at Brigham Young University. On their way to the city of Chengdu to teach English to graduate students for two semesters, they were stopping in LeShan for a short stay.
They arrived at their hotel, then went to find a meal. Locals directed them down an unnerving series of streets and alleys that looked less and less like they might harbor restaurants. Finally they found themselves at the home of Mr. Yang, a retired English teacher who loved entertaining foreign visitors. The village people were adept at sending him guests to feed and talk with. He quickly arranged to take them on a tour of his hometown the next day. The wild ride had begun.
Their stay in China would be punctuated with heat and humidity, snow and ice, and even an earthquake, but that was far from all. Weekends and class recesses allowed for travel all around China and to neighboring countries.
On a trip to Beijing, they had the opportunity to attend the temple owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that is nearest that city—in South Korea. Attending church the next day, they were amazed to see friends from Tucson who had moved to South Korea a few years before. This was one of the spiritual stars that lit the horizon for them over the next nine months.
Of course, they were in China to work, so they moved into faculty housing—an apartment of dollhouse proportions they would have been hard-pressed to imagine before they arrived. New adventures in food and culture awaited them at every turn. But they found the people charming and eager to be taught.
Karen had been in classrooms for many years—first in traditional schools and then teaching early-morning seminary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The biggest adjustment for her was creating lesson plans that bridged the culture gap. Her students appreciated her creative and entertaining efforts from the beginning.
Kirk had much less teaching practice. His life had been mostly spent chatting with patients one-on-one when they came in for dental work, and talking with members of the Church when he was bishop in the Tucson West Stake Wildwood Park Ward. But he did remarkably well in this new role, and even generated opportunities to use his more-honed skills.
Learning that dental hygiene was not a common practice in China, he arranged to teach students how to clean, polish and floss teeth. He had more volunteers than he could handle! For them, this was an opportunity to both practice their English and to learn a new skill. Kirk set up “Smile Clinics” that opened the eyes of understanding for many. Now, instead of having their decaying teeth pulled before they turn 40, the people of Chengdu have the chance to have healthy mouths for many extra years.
Throughout this stay on in a foreign land, the Mosleys had experiences that brought them spiritual rewards.
In addition to her work in teaching English, Karen was asked to be a guest teacher in a Masters class in family relationships on one occasion, and to talk about parenting. This allowed her to share some of her lifestyle with the students, which was very different from their experience.
She showed them a family photo album that she had brought from home. It was filled with pictures of family vacations and activities. In each one, all the family members were beaming. In China, the common scenario is for grandparents to tend the children while parents are out earning the living. Children usually have no familial responsibilities, and when they are old enough, spend what we would consider very long hours in school and study. There is little, if any, “family time.”
Karen had to be careful to only talk about her own experience, and not to reference the fact that the Church had been her source of strength in parenting. “I basically used the Family Proclamation to explain the roles of family members,” she said.
There are strict rules about preaching the gospel in China; you can’t. Even if people approach you with questions, you have to tell them that you cannot discuss religion with them. Chinese members of the Church are not allowed to attend meetings with foreigners; they have separate branches.
How strange it was, then, that there was a woman who was a native of Chengdu attending the English-speaking branch that the Mosleys attended. It turned out that Lyncy had lived in America, married an American and changed her citizenship. Therefore, she had a foreign passport, which served as her pathway into the English-speaking branch.
Lyncy heard Karen teach in Relief Society and was impressed. She invited Karen to teach a parents’ group of around 40 other women, to talk about family life in America. Lyncy thought that they, too, would be interested in the differences between American and Chinese practices.
Again, Karen brought the family album to share. She taught that children come with gifts and talents, and that it is the responsibility of the parents to help them develop those talents. She talked about giving children chores and responsibilities, and how that helps them grow into responsible adults. She also talked about discipline—children seeing the effects of natural consequences, or having privileges removed if they break family rules.
The ladies were full of questions. To them, the idea of family relationships as practiced by the Mosleys was revolutionary. Karen reminded the ladies several times that she could only answer their concerns with what she personally would have done raising her own children. “Experiences like this made me feel that I was doing good—more than teaching English classes.”
Over time, Karen and Lyncy became good friends, and Lyncy asked if she and her friend Lily—another woman who was “legal” to teach—could come to Karen’s home to learn more about “the God.”
“I taught them that they were daughters of a Heavenly Father, and that His Son came to earth to redeem them from their sins and bring them eternal life,” Karen remembered.
Eventually, near the end of the teaching assignment, both Lyncy and Lily were baptized by Kirk Mosley. It was a beautiful and most unexpected way to cap their stay in China.
Now Kirk and Karen are home and adjusting to the daily routine of work and family responsibilities, including the several additional grandbabies who arrived while they were gone or shortly after their return. They look back on the work they did in Chengdu with satisfaction.
“One reason I went was that so I could share my experiences at home later,” Karen said, so she enjoys telling her stories of faith and adventure to others. And she has seen how having members of the Church teaching there has already begun to open doors. “It is opening [the country] to the gospel. There are humanitarian service missions now available in China.”
More evidence of the changes came this month. Lyncy’s son was just baptized, and her husband attended the baptismal service. Also, both Lyncy and Lily have received callings in the branch. The work goes forward “…out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Rev 5: 9).